A funny thing happened on the way to Nov. 7.
Defending Pac-12 champion Stanford was supposed to meet the conference's highest-ranked team and presumptive BCS title front-runner Oregon on that night, with each sporting matching, perfect records.
But after two straight heartbreaking losses in conference play, Utah finally broke through Saturday. The Utes' goal-line stand against Stanford dispatched the Cardinal with their first loss and completely upset that Nov. 7 "perfect" matchup.
Utah also proved the treacherous nature of the Pac-12 schedule in 2013. The Utes' 27-21 victory was the program's first defeat of a Top Five-ranked team since defeating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, per David Lombardi:
Stanford is the highest-ranked opponent Utah has beaten since taking down No. 4 Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.— David Lombardi (@DavidMLombardi) October 13, 2013
The Pac-12 is arguably the nation's deepest conference, and its top-to-bottom strength will pose a challenge to its BCS championship aspirations.
"This feels like we won the national title," Utah wide receiver Dres Anderson said in his postgame press conference, via UtahUtes.com.
With the reigning Rose Bowl champion coming into Rice-Eccles Stadium and the home-standing Utes sporting two tough, consecutive home losses already this season, Utah rose up to the challenge.
"We knew we were coming into a hornets' nest here. UCLA came in here a week ago and barely squeaked out. We knew it would be a battle and we didn't play well enough," Stanford head coach David Shaw said in his postgame press conference.
Utah went shot-for-shot with No. 5 Stanford, building a lead of as much as 13 points. The two-score advantage proved crucial as the Cardinal moved into Ute territory on the game's final drive.
The Utah hornet's nest has completely changed the dynamic of the BCS Championship for the Pac-12 conference.
Stanford now faces a decided uphill climb to both the Pac-12 title and national title contention.
UCLA still awaits the Cardinal and, oh yeah, the nation’s No. 11-ranked Bruins also have to play No. 2-ranked Oregon.
And so does Utah.
The Utes travel to Oregon Nov. 16 with a decidedly bolstered profile in the Pac-12.
Utah came into the conference with an impressive resume over the last few years, and the Utes needed to prove their mettle on a weekly basis against Pac-12 competition.
“This is a nice win for our program,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said in his postgame press conference. “We had to play all 60 minutes tonight.”
The Pac-12 is composed of teams capable of bringing a competitive effort of an entire 60 minutes.
Stanford saw it each of the last weeks against both Utah and Washington. Washington brought its best against Oregon on Saturday, keeping within a score of the Ducks through three quarters.
The Cardinal’s loss could bolster the profile of the conference. Utah has proven itself as a legitimate challenge to any team in the Pac-12 after its Week 6 challenge to UCLA and Week 7 defeat of Stanford.
But with teams like Stanford looming, the Pac-12 could also be a cannibalizing entity. This year’s league is the deepest it has ever been, particularly since expanding to a dozen members.
The conference is proving to be a gauntlet on every weekend, and the weekly challenges could be a boon to its teams' national championship aspirations, should they emerge unscathed.
A team like Utah could also be the detour in the Pac-12’s championship road map that entered this week so perfectly mapped out.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.